It may have won the council vote, but the ruling Conservative group is losing the battle for local hearts and minds with its plans to build a new car park in Station Road West.
People are asking why we need a new multi-storey car park in the middle of a highly-congested area? The logic goes that as the population expands and people migrate away from the capital, car parking spaces are needed for all the extra commuters using the Canterbury West train station.
The construction will effectively fill dead space, sitting above the existing ground-level car park. The council argues that the building is an investment which will eventually pay for itself through revenue. Thereafter all income is profit.
What it would rather you didn’t think about in too much detail is all the extra traffic. With thousands of extra homes being built over the next few years and no imminent plans to improve the road infrastructure, traffic will grind to a virtual standstill.
When it does, we’ll be no worse off than city centres up and down the country. So when confronted with the inevitable, what’s the point of fighting it? Or so the logic goes…
There’s a certain irony that the biggest increase in traffic on Canterbury’s ring road will be a result of the new housing in the Mountfield development, part of the Local Plan. It’s a double whammy of thousands of extra cars on one side of the city needing to drive to the opposite side of the city to park.
Proponents of this project presumably believe residents will become accustomed to the traffic, and that there is no need for radical action to tackle it.
Yet this underestimates the magnitude of the congestion problems we already see in Canterbury, and how thousands of extra cars crossing the city will add to it.
As Martin Vye wrote in his article for the Canterbury Journal, to date there has been no impact study on the effects of extra traffic in the city.
When challenged, council leaders suggest improved traffic signs and increased numbers of park and ride buses may help offset the problems, but this is unlikely to address concerns by itself.
Campaigners also highlight the effect of congestion on Canterbury’s already poor air quality. One of the counter-arguments put forward is that within a few years we will all be driving electric cars, so the damage will be short-lived.
But this argument doesn’t work either – it’s going to be a while before changes in our driving habits have a noticeable impact on the air quality. If we’re not careful, it will be clean air that will be short-lived.
The Westgate Towers traffic trial fiasco is an example of what can happen when the council gets it wrong.
Abandoned in 2013, the temporary changes to the road layout in St Dunstan’s caused mayhem.
Many supporters of the scheme, keen to protect the ancient monument from a barrage of traffic scrapes, have since conceded the trial was a disaster.
And unlike the car park, it didn’t cost £9 million. How will residents react when the inevitable chaos unfolds if the car park goes ahead?
Council leaders are determined to see the scheme through. However, with local elections only a year away have they nailed their colours to the mast of a sinking ship? Time will tell.
James Flanagan is a former Liberal Democrat Canterbury city councillor who twice stood for Parliament. He lives in Tankerton and works in London.